From One Spouse to Another:
Helping Your Marriage Beat Cancer
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In 2005, my wife, Joan, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It has been a difficult journey, but we survived. Thankfully, she is now cancer free. Yet we learned first-hand that cancer threatens a marriage as well as a body. Here are three ideas that helped the two of us survive – together.
1. You can’t fix this. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. I am the 500-pound gorilla who protects my family, but I couldn’t do battle with my wife’s cancer. I couldn’t fix the condition, or take responsibility for it going wrong in the first place, like I always want to do. Instead, my job was to support my wife while someone else fixed it. This is not easy. Learn to trust the doctors. If you don’t trust them, get a second opinion. Then stand aside, giving your spouse what they need most – your unconditional love and acceptance.
2. Keep communicating. While this seems like a no-brainer to anyone who has been married for a few years, you need to talk about more than how your day went. Both of you must share your fears openly. It’s a fine line to walk, staying strong while also disclosing the darkness in your heart.
In an attempt to be the Rock of Gibraltar, I tried to hide my fears from Joan. She mistook this as indifference. When she went into surgery, I made the mistake of acting as if she was going to a routine procedure. I was trying to be strong, but my apparent lack of concern hurt her more than any scalpel.
Don’t forget physical communication either. Cancer, and the methods used to combat it, can ravage the body. Take time to be tender. That touch of your hand, soft kiss or long hug can make a huge difference and reinforce the love your partner needs. Joan was concerned that because of the scars, she wouldn’t be attractive to me anymore. I made sure to prove otherwise. She needed frequent reminders that I married her, not her body. Remember, everyone needs to be desired.
3. Summon support. Trying to shoulder everything alone makes battling cancer more difficult than it has to be. Gather support by talking to families of people with similar forms of cancer. Your doctor can direct you to support groups. Including family and friends in the process is essential. Remember, they love your spouse too! The people closest to you don’t know how to deal with the emotional and physical changes any better than you do. But if you include them as early as possible, everyone benefits with additional layers of support.
If only I had known these three things earlier, I would have been a more compassionate champion for my wife from the day we learned about the disease. May your journey with cancer be smoother than ours – because of your togetherness – and may your marriage emerge stronger, like ours did.